By mid-June 1789, the self-appointed National Assembly gathered at a separate location, in what is described as an indoor tennis court to discuss their disdain for the nobility and aristocracy and their plans to defy France’s king. The participants of the assembly fixed their sights on the Bastille, a mighty stone structure that symbolized the corrupt and heavy-handed oppression of the monarchy toward the French commoner. On the morning of July 14, 1789, hundreds of angry citizens stormed the Bastille and a deadly fight ensued. The fortress was armed with large weapons, heavy ammunition, and guards. Orders to cease-fire were called to avoid a potential massacre by Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay, but he was beaten, stabbed, and beheaded by the revolutionaries. His head was staked on a pike and paraded throughout the city. It was a true spectacle of resistance and savage warfare. The Bastille fell to the revolutionaries that afternoon, and its stone walls ripped apart and dropped to the blood-stained ground below.
The monarchial defeat at the Bastille served as fuel to the revolutionaries and pumped more fire into their cause as they set their sights on the king’s dwelling. Men and women broke through the gates at the castle in Versailles, intentionally seeking France’s queen, Marie Antionette. “Lady Deficit”, as she was often referred to for her squander of valuable resources, fled her chambers to the King’s quarters just before the angry mob reached her. Her bedding and belongings were torn to shreds and maniacal shouts echoed throughout the palace. With great reluctance, King Louis and Marie Antionette moved their family to Paris.
The National Assembly gathered to institute the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen on August 26, 1789. The declaration consists of seventeen Articles, however, the primary point that can be gathered from this declaration is that ‘men are born and remain free and equal in rights’, which also include the right to
property, liberty, and resistance to oppressive forces. Like their American compatriots, the French people realized that far more would be needed to claim their freedoms than by bold signatures alone. Revolution was not only imminent, but it was also necessary. Well-known general, Marquis de Lafayette wrote to George Washington regarding his concerns over France’s revolution and the growing number of angry and armed citizens. France’s revolution did not exactly mirror the revolution Lafayette fought in the American colonies. ‘Now we are disturbed with Revolts among the Regiments4—and as I am Constantly Attacked on Both Sides By the Aristocratic and the Factious party, I don’t know to which of the two we owe these insurrections—our Safeguard Against them Lies with the National guard—There is more than a Million of Armed Citizens—Among them Patriotism Reigns—and my influence with ’em, is as Great as if I Had Accepted the Chief Command.’ As scorching hostilities toward the monarchy rose, King Louis and Marie Antionette decided to attempt an escape by disguising themselves as peasants and hiding within the confines of an ordinary carriage, hoping to escape to Austria, Marie’s homeland. They were stopped near the border of France and Austria and were swiftly identified and arrested. They were transported back to Paris to await the wrath of a people who now saw them as cowards and traitors. Treason was an offense punishable by death, so a shouting people who had not yet been soothed to vocal hoarseness demanded the head of its king. On January 21, 1793, King Louis XVI was beheaded in Paris, France. His execution was one of many during the revolution that also included the beheading of Louis’ queen, Marie Antionette. An open carriage used to transport the common criminal and livestock was the official escort of Marie to her demise instead of an elegant carriage. There was no fancy procession as she was led to the guillotine on October 16, 1793.
The French monarchy was gone, their deaths being only the beginning of the blood bath that followed under the influence of Maximilien Robespierre. Fellow revolutionary influencer, Georges Danton believed that with the execution of France’s king and queen, the people of France could begin to build on the liberties and 5 www.thehistoriansmagazine.com
freedoms that they had declared so passionately. Danton was ready for a forward movement in the hopes that peace and restoration would reign supreme. Robespierre had not yet had his fill of bloodshed. The Reign of Terror was about to begin.